ZIMBABWE: Student faces death for alleged coup plot

A University of Zimbabwe student appeared in the Harare High Court last week on charges of plotting a coup against the government of long-time ruler President Robert Mugabe. Rangarirai Mazirofa, 21, a second year agriculture student, was arrested in May last year with six other men for allegedly plotting to assassinate the ageing despot with the help of the security forces. He has been tortured in prison. The men all face a death sentence.

Police say the operation - codenamed 1940 - was supposed to have been carried out either on 2 June or 15 June last year. The other alleged plotters are Albert Matapo, Nyasha Zivuka, Oncemore Mudzurahona, Shingirai Mutemachani, Patson Mupfure and Emmanuel Marara.

Matapo, a former army captain who is related to the university student, is accused of being the group's ringleader. The suspects are alleged to have planned to install Matapo as Prime Minister before inviting Emmerson Mnangagwa, Zimbabwe's powerful Minister of Rural Housing and Social Amenities and Mugabe's chief election agent, to become President.

Mazirofa and his co-accused have been languishing in Harare's Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison without trial since their arrest, with police saying they were continuing investigations. A charge sheet says the alleged coup plotters, who are denying all accusations, conspired to recruit members of the army, air force and police to take over the government.

Regarding Mazirofa, the charge sheet says the University of Zimbabwe student's crime was that he went to One Commando Army Barracks on 25 May last year and carried out reconnaissance of strategic points for the purposes of executing the coup.

The coup trial was supposed to kick off last Monday, but could not proceed as scheduled because prosecutors failed to provide defence lawyers with court papers in time to prepare for the case, Mazirofa's attorney Charles Warara told University World News in an interview. Prosecutors would set another date for the case to start, he added.

Observers in Zimbabwe have dismissed the trial as part of the ruling Zanu-PF party's factional fighting in a battle to succeed the 84-year-old dictator. Mnangangwa, who has been linked in the case but was not arrested, controls one of the party's two factions with the other one led by Solomon Mujuru, a former army commander and husband of the country's vice-president Joice Mujuru.

Following his arrest, the agriculture student was severely tortured. A medical report prepared on order of a court confirmed the torture.

Charles Warara said initially the police wanted his client to be a state witness. When he refused, saying he was not aware of the coup, they crafted a case against him.

When the trial commenced, the lawyer said, Mazirofa would submit that the state never intended to charge him, but only did so after he refused to turn state witness. "He will also say when he went to One Commando there was a football match that he was watching with a friend who stays there. It was not for reconnaissance purposes," Warara added.

Since last year, Mazirofa has applied twice, without success, to be released on bail. At one of the bail hearings his lawyer told the court that even if he had come to power, the 21-year-old student would not know what to do with it. "I want the state to tell this court why this young boy should be kept in leg irons. What would he do if he was released today? Take over the country? What would he do?" asked the lawyer, but to no avail.

Denying Mazirofa bail, High Court Judge Ben Hlwatswayo said the student had failed to give an alibi or proffer an "innocent" explanation for his involvement with the alleged coup plotters. In an appeal to the Supreme Court, Mazirofa said in an affidavit that Judge Hlwatswayo had erred in denying him freedom, because if released he did not have the resources to stage an escape - something the High Court had conceded.

Asked on conditions in prison, lawyer Warara said the main worry was inadequate food in a country that is reeling under inflation of nearly 10 million percent and increasingly depends on imports after Mugabe's seizure of white-owned farms destroyed commercial agriculture.

"From the information I got, his family brings him food from home every day," Warara said. Prisons only provide one meal a day. Asked whether Mazirofa was able to continue his degree in prison, the lawyer said: "He is not pursuing his studies. The University of Zimbabwe has no such facilities. We never talk much about education. Right now we are focused on the court case."